Lebanon through the eyes of Molara Brown
Once in a while I feature other travelers especially fellow bloggers and today we have Molara Brown sharing her experience in Lebanon. She beautifully describes travel as her soulmate and photography as her all understanding side chic. Of a truth, her Lebanon pictures got me looking for flights. Hope her travel story below in addition to subsequent posts inspire you as much as it inspired me.
I would be lying if I said Lebanon was on my travel bucket list, it was not even in my travel plans for 2018. The only reason Lebanon came on my travel list this year was simply because I found cheap tickets. The cost of my EgyptAir ticket was N159,699.
Although, I had read some blogs while planning this trip, I went to Lebanon with zero expectations.
There are two ways to apply for the Lebanon visa. You either apply for Visa at the Lebanese embassy in Nigeria (Lagos or Abuja) or you get the visa on Arrival in Lebanon. Nigeria is one of the 15 countries allowed to get a conditional visa on arrival.
The requirements for a conditional visa on arrival are
a non-refundable return or circle trip ticket;
a copy of a reservation in a 3 to 5 star hotel or private residential address with telephone number in the Republic of Lebanon; and
at least $2,000 in cash. If you don’t have $2,000, I would advise you apply for the visa at the embassy. I opted for the conditional visa on arrival which is $20 asides from the expected $2,000 cash.
Before I was allowed to check in, I was made to use my own credit to call my host in Beirut to confirm that accommodation was already paid for, after which I was told to count my dollars in front of some other female official who just waved me away upon sighting the money.
The EgyptAir flight departed Lagos after more than 2 hours delay on 3rd November. I had an 8 hours layover in Cairo and my flight landed in Beirut on 4th November by 9.20 AM (GMT+2). Passing the immigration was smooth and I was only asked for the number of days I would be in the country for, paid the $20 for the visa stamp and was stamped in by immigration. I had no checked-in luggage, so it was straight up to arrival for me.
If you ever go to Beirut, never buy sim card from the airport.
I asked to buy a sim card at the airport and I was told to pay $58. I almost paid for the sim card thinking that was the cost in the country. I already even gave the man my passport and then someone else enters and he said “I would rather roam my line than buy sim card for $58”. That is how my village people saved me and I requested for my passport back. I would later buy a sim card in town for 5000 Lebanese Pound ($3.30).
I got a taxi from the airport for $35, quite pricey considering that I got the offer of $20 from my Tour guide which I didn’t take before arriving in Lebanon. The cab driver allowed me call my AirBnB host with his phone. If travelling on a budget in Lebanon, airbnb is the way to go. My home for the next 3 nights was a one bedroom apartment on the 8th floor overlooking the sea port in the Mar Mikhael neighborhood.
FUN FACTS ABOUT LEBANON
Let me share some facts about Lebanon before I dive right into what I was up to for each day I was in the country.
Lebanon is the oldest country name in the world. It is over 4000 years old.
Lebanon is the only Arab country without a desert.
The oldest continuously inhabited city in the world, Byblos (Jbeil) is situated in Lebanon.
Lebanon gained independence from France on November 23, 1943. It was a french colony
Lebanon’s official language is Arabic, however English and French are widely spoken.
The Cedar is the national symbol of Lebanon, it signifies its enduring strength.
Beirut is the capital and largest city. It also has the country’s main seaport and is known as the ‘Paris of the Middle East’’.
Baalbeck with the only Jupiter Temple (Roman) in the World is located in Lebanon
Lebanon is also home to the first law school in the world which dates back to the Phoenician Era.
It snows in Lebanon. The country is famous for having a snowy winter up in the mountains.
EXPLORING BEIRUT (DAY 1)
The first thing I did when I entered the room was to sleep, after travelling (airport wait time + actual flying time) for almost 24 hours. I finally dragged myself out of the bed, showered, and was ready to explore the city by 2 PM (Lebanon Time).
I found a lady outside my Airbnb apartment who was nice enough to drop me on the main road. I told the service driver I was going to the city centre meanwhile I was going to a different place. The service driver dropped me in front of a mall with City Centre written boldly on it. That is the moment I realized I had goofed. Language barrier was going to be an issue. I roamed the mall for a few minutes and eventually stepped outside to find a taxi to the National Museum. After a few minutes haggling, we were finally on our way to the Museum for $10.
Entry into the Museum was free on the day I visited but the entry fee is LBP 5,000 per adult and LBP 1,000 per child. The Museum is open all day of the week except Monday from 9AM to 5PM. The National museum which was officially opened in 1943 is said to have collections totaling about 100,000 objects, most of which are significant artifacts and medieval finds from prehistoric to Mamluk times.
The Museum suffered extensive damage during the 1975 Civil War in Lebanon. The Museum served as the divide between the warring factions. We got to watch a short clip which detailed the origin of the museum, the excavations and how it survived the war.
Next destination was Downtown Beirut which is home to the Beirut Souks, Roman baths, 800-year-old Al-Omari Grand Mosque, St. George’s Maronite, Place de l’Etoile, Martyrs’ Square and the Mohammad Al-Amin Mosque. This was my initial destination until I turned downtown Beirut to the “city centre” which turned out to be a Mall.
My first stop was the Mohamad al Amin Mosque, a Sunni Muslim mosque which is also referred to as “the blue Mosque”. The mosque is one of the most impressive structures in Beirut. Entrance to mosque which spots a blue dome, towering minarets built with stone from Saudi Arabia is free and if you are a lady, you will have to put on a free flowing black robe to enter (there is a rack by the entrance where you can take one). I am a sucker for beautifully built mosques and this inspired by Ottoman one was a beautiful sight to behold. From the chandelier to Islamic art and the way it lit up at night is a must not miss if ever in Beirut.
Adjacent to the Mohammed Al-Amin Mosque is the Martyr’s square Monument. Behind the mosque is the Saint George Maronite Cathedral and after which I roamed the Beirut Souks which is basically a shopping Mall. I tried to get a SIM card but was told I needed to provide my passport.
Downtown Beirut gave the European city vibe. The building structures and streets are similar to a regular street in Bonn or Paris.
On my way back to the airbnb apartment, it was so difficult describing my hotel to the taxi driver. I got the name of the neighborhood but apparently the neighborhood is split in two by the highway. The cab driver dropped me at some point when I realized the confusion, I found a man who understood English and was kind enough to send me on the right path to my airbnb. I found a restaurant on my way and relaxed to have dinner which was a Lebanese cuisine, afterwards, I began the sojourn back to my airbnb and called it a night.
ADDITIONAL TRAVEL TIPS
Getting around Lebanon
In Lebanon, Uber works, so you might want to rely on this when visiting. It works specifically in Beirut but outside the city, it will be difficult to get a ride. I hear there is another app called Careem but I never got to download it.
Renting a Car
If you have an international driving license and don’t mind driving yourself around especially locations that are not easily accessible by public transport, you might want to consider renting a car.
Keep in mind that there is pretty much no traffic or driving rules. You will need to drive with caution and be alert at all times to avoid accidents. Traffic during rush hours can be quite frustrating as well. If you are used to the madness that is called driving in Lagos, you will be alright driving in Lebanon.
There are buses and taxis. The extensive road network in Lebanon are generally in good conditions. Buses are the cheapest especially when going outside Beirut to Byblos and other towns. The fare is from LBP 1500 ($1) and I think the maximum I paid for a bus ride was LBP 2000 ($1.33). The major routes are Beirut - Byblos (Jbeil)- Tripoli and Beirut- Sidon- Sour (Tyre)
Lebanon is definitely off the beaten path destination which the world is more recently paying attention to. If history is your thing, food and hiking adventures, then you should totally visit Lebanon. However, do not bother planning a visit to Lebanon if you have the Israeli stamp on your passport and vice versa.
‘‘In this exotic town of Beirut, one can experience a very active social life with theatres, cultural events and night life as well. In spite of the destruction it has experienced due to the civil war and especially bombing of the Israeli war planes, the city has a lot to offer thanks to the major reconstruction it has undergone’’.